Before we turn our attention to Axe Week and all of the implications of that, we must first close the book on the Northwestern Championship Season, as the Minnesota Golden Gophers went into Evanston and defeated the Wildcats by a score of 38-22.
What is your Tweet-length (280 characters or less) summary of the Gophers’ 38-22 win over Northwestern?
gopherguy05: Great start, very meh middle, fine in the end. Clean it up, play a full 60 minutes, go chop your way to Indy.
GopherNation: Tough to keep that foot on the gas when 21-0 comes so easily. I love this offense.
IowaGopher: The Gophers’ first 10-win regular season since 1905. What more could you ask for? Well, aside from an axe and a trip to Indianapolis.
mowe0018: Covered. 10-1. Just win. Time for all the marbles.
WhiteSpeedReceiver: That was a fun day.
Ustreet: Never in doubt from before the kickoff.
zipsofakron: Who would’ve thought a fourth-string quarterback could be so pesky?
To borrow a Fleck-ism, who is your pick for “Nekton of the Week” from the game?
gopherguy05: Tyler Bateman. Good luck trying to pick between the two. Not sure it’s possible. Both are just studs week in and week out.
GopherNation: I’m going to go with Rashod Johnson. I really, really love this offense.
IowaGopher: I’ll go with Rashod Bateman. Three touchdowns and all three of them were highlight reel catches. Northwestern fans sitting next to me at the game were in awe of how P.J. Fleck managed to steal him out of Georgia.
mowe0018: I’ll be contrarian and say Antoine Winfield Jr. 11 tackles, one sack. Guy has been the heart and soul of a cogent defense all year. Defense gave up -3 yards through four drives and I think would have dominated the whole game if special teams hadn’t goofed.
WhiteSpeedReceiver: Tanner went 15-for-23 for four touchdowns. Did he completely miss the linebacker sitting back on his interception? Yup. Did he get facemasked on his “intentional grounding” safety? Yup. But he still had one hell of a game, especially for coming out of the concussion protocol.
zipsofakron: Rashod Bateman. The dude is just a wizard.
Tanner Morgan now holds the school record for touchdown passes in a single season, and leads the Big Ten in passing yards. What aspect of his game has been most impressive?
gopherguy05: The placement on some of his throws has been amazing. He made several NFL-type throws against Northwestern that were caught because of of NFL-type receivers. But I don’t think any of us thought this was what we were going to get from Tanner Morgan back in August.
GopherNation: He is accurate and he makes good decisions. Nobody makes 100% perfect decisions and we’ve seen some boneheaded throws, but that’s true for every quarterback in the country. Morgan is really accurate, he has receivers who not only get open but can be trusted to make the tough catch and he puts it out there for his playmakers. This guy will be a fringe Heisman candidate next year.
IowaGopher: His accuracy is so impressive to me. Morgan certainly benefits from being able to trust Johnson and Bateman to catch 95 percent of whatever he throws their way, but his ball placement is perfect on a lot of his most difficult throws.
mowe0018: His intermediate and long throws have been very accurate. He hasn’t taken too many bad sacks. His pocket awareness has been above-average. Essentially, he’s avoided major mistakes and done the little things very well. So to actually answer the question, his well-rounded approach has been what I’ve been most impressed with with Tanner Morgan this season.
WhiteSpeedReceiver: He doesn’t make bad decisions. We’ve seen so many quarterbacks who have had stronger arms and were actually 6’2” and were faster come in and be just average quarterbacks because they couldn’t (or weren’t taught) how to make the right decisions and weren’t given the tools (read: more than one fucking wide receiver) or play calls to succeed. In spite of any shortcomings Tanner has, he gets put in a position to succeed and takes advantage of it.
Ustreet: His mechanics on RPOs to get his feet set.
zipsofakron: His accuracy in putting the ball where only his receivers can get it is uncanny. That was on full display against Northwestern. It becomes that much more effective when you have two receivers who can pull down almost anything you put in their vicinity and also significantly minimizes interception opportunities for the defense.
Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman are the first teammates to each record 1,000+ receiving yards in a single season at Minnesota. Using specific examples from this game, if you can, what would you say makes them so special?
gopherguy05: They just can make any tough catch look easy. Morgan threw some passes that there is no way lesser receivers make the catch, but both Bateman and Johnson did. They seem to have great chemistry with Tanner and can make him look good on just about any type of play.
GopherNation; That over the shoulder touchdown catch by Johnson was awesome. But more than anything, these guys both run great routes to get themselves open. Bateman’s touchdown along the sideline of the end zone was pretty too.
IowaGopher: They are so difficult to cover because their elite route running allows them to create separation and get open, but they can also make catches in traffic. I honestly don’t know what these defensive backs are supposed to do to stop them, aside from committing blatant pass interference.
mowe0018: The fact that I expect a catch every time the ball is thrown is proof enough that they have been spectacular this season. I am in literal disbelief anytime they are the target and the ball hits the turf.
WhiteSpeedReceiver: They’re good and they’ve been coached well.
Ustreet: Refer to their routes on each of their first touchdown catches.
zipsofakron: I alluded to it earlier but with Morgan being so effective at getting the ball in their vicinity, they are in great position to come down with the ball in any given situation. However, these two have shown the ability to proactively go to the ball and make a play, instead of being passive. That’s where you’re seeing them come down with so many huge catches.
The Gopher defense wasn’t quite as sharp as fans had expected against a woeful Northwestern defense. If you’re defensive coordinator Joe Rossi, what is your point of emphasis in practice this week as you prepare for Wisconsin?
gopherguy05: Tackling. If Minnesota can wrap up and make solid tackles, a lot of those woes go away. I doubt they will do live tackling in practice like they did earlier in the season, but that will be a huge key. Wrap up and take them down. If you can stop Jonathan Taylor at the point of attack, rather than him shedding three tackles and getting an extra eight yards, it will make everything else a lot easier. Make Wisconsin have to beat you with Jack Coan.
GopherNation: I think it was a weird second half when they were playing to win, not necessarily to limit yardage. This is a defense that prioritizes not giving up big plays. Now this coming week they’ll be focused on stopping the run while allowing their secondary to make plays in the passing game. This defense is not an elite, “shutdown” defense. But it is good, they’ll have a plan in place for Wisconsin, and I’m not worried.
IowaGopher: Tackling and ensuring that every defender understands their assignment and all run fits are covered. They’ll need to be disciplined and tackle well against Wisconsin.
mowe0018: Just play the way they played the first four series of the Northwestern game and they’ll be fine. They know exactly what Wisconsin wants to do. There shouldn’t be any surprises. A defensive game plan similar to last year’s should do just fine methinks.
WhiteSpeedReceiver: Make Taylor earn every inch, and don’t let the badger “receivers” get behind you.
Ustreet: Swarm tackling and edge setting.
zipsofakron: Rossi has got to be looking at minimizing big plays. Taylor will get his 100 yards, but like Penn State if you can minimize Coan’s effectiveness and force them to beat you on the ground you can minimize the explosiveness. Penn State’s big plays almost sunk the ship, so I’d imagine that will be a point of emphasis going into Saturday.
This is Minnesota’s first 10-win season since 2003. If you were following the Gophers back then, how does this team — and this season — compare to that year so far?
gopherguy05: So far this one has been much better. We won the huge hyped game, as opposed to losing in excruciating fashion. But this Saturday is the biggest game this program will have played in the last 60ish years — if not longer. This game is a season definer. Nothing will take away what the Gophers have done this season. However, when you think back to 2003, the one memory that remains for everyone is the bitter loss to Michigan. Yeah, the Rhys Lloyd kick against Wisconsin was that year, but everyone’s first memory is always Michigan. This Saturday is one of those games for Minnesota. What will be the lasting memory of this season: Wisconsin/Indy/Pasadena or a Penn State win that was great but seems so long ago?
GopherNation: This team has some similarities. Huge playmakers on offense with a good offensive line. But this defense is much better than the 2003 version. This team can also beat you in different ways while the 2003 team was really just an elite rushing team. Michigan State (the week following the debacle against Michigan) held that Gopher rushing attack to just 148 yards rushing and obviously won that game. The 2019 Gophers can beat you in multiple ways.
WhiteSpeedReceiver: We have a defense. That offense and special teams were better, but this team is better than that one because the gaps between this offense and special teams aren’t as big as the gap between that defense and this one. Additionally, this group has shown that they’re mentally stronger because they didn’t go out and shit the bed against Northwestern following the Iowa loss like that team did with Sparty following Michigan.
Ustreet: Better at everything except running the football and kickoffs.
As we approach the regular season finale — which could very well be the biggest game of the season — what has been your favorite moment from this season thus far?
gopherguy05: So far it’s the Jordan Howden interception against Penn State, with the Antoine Winfield Jr. interception against Fresno State a close second. That all gets usurped this weekend when the Gophers try to chop down the goal posts but can’t in a sea of people on the field celebrating a trip to Indianapolis.
GopherNation: My favorite moment is going to be standing in the press box at the Rose Bowl as the flyover happens. But until that moment, it was watching the field get rushed after beating No. 4-ranked Penn State.
IowaGopher: The emotions from beating Penn State. It was an incredible moment.
mowe0018: The moment(s) when people who know me really well were no longer looking at me with pity when I was wearing my Gopher gear after a college football Saturday and instead wanted to talk about how Minnesota was getting screwed in the latest College Football Playoff rankings.
WhiteSpeedReceiver: Just sitting in the stands for a few moments soaking everything in following the Howden interception and the kneeldowns where I couldn’t really process my emotions. That was fun.
Ustreet: Chris Autman-Bell’s touchdown as time expired.
zipsofakron: Bateman’s touchdown catch in the first quarter against Penn State. It was one of those moments where you step back and just say, “Here we go. It’s on.”